EUGENE, Ore. — Sabrina Ionescu's career at Oregon was one for the ages.
She was part of a class that transformed a program into a national power. She did that while achieving superstar status, breaking records and winning almost every major individual award in the game.
Despite all those accomplishments, 2020 has not been an easy year for Ionescu. On the court, business remains unfinished as her final shot at a national championship was taken away due to the coronavirus pandemic. And off the court, she lost a friend and mentor when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter and seven others.
But when reflecting on her decision to return for her senior season, she knows she made the right one.
"It was probably one of the best decisions of my life to come back. Although there were many ups and downs through the year, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else besides there," said Ionescu. "Obviously, one of the worst years of my life, but also one of the best. Being able to share that with the community, the school, with my teammates for one last time was a blessing."
The start of a new chapter begins with the WNBA Draft on Friday, April 17.
"Becky Hammon was my first jersey that I owned, so I think at a young age I always wanted to play professional basketball, whether that was in the WNBA or NBA, I always had that goal of playing at the next level. So, I think it's going to be an amazing experience to just be able to say that I am a professional," Ionescu said.
It's also a chance for her to inspire the next generation of basketball players wanting to grow up to be like her and play at the highest level.
"I love it. I think it's awesome," Ionescu said. "When I was young, I was looking for people to look up to, looking for athletes to look up to, so it's only right that I'm able to do that and contribute to someone else's inspiration."
College basketball's biggest star is likely headed to the Big Apple, playing for the New York Liberty, who own the top pick in the draft.
"I'm just excited if I get that opportunity. I think they have the right pieces in place and I think the goals and vision of that coaching staff and front office has for that team is bright, so I'm excited to see if I'm able to be a part of that organization," said Ionescu.
"I've only been there twice, so I don't really know a lot about New York, but I am definitely excited about the opportunity to play there at Barclays Center. Just the marketability in New York and the hustle and bustle could be beneficial not only to myself as a person, but as a brand for women's basketball," she said.
Ionescu has a decision to make and plans to make it before the draft. That's selecting a brand she would like to endorse. She's got options from Nike to Under Armour and Puma.
"Whether that's going to be a shoe down the line or whatever it is, just hoping to get with a brand that can use me on their platform to kind of advocate for something bigger than just basketball," Ionescu said.
The spotlight will be on her as she enters a league filled with the best players in the world and she's OK knowing they're coming for her.
"I've had a target on my back for the last four years so it's not going to be anything new," said Ionescu. "I'm just excited to be able to learn from them and make some friendships along the way. I do know it's going to be difficult, but I'm excited for the challenge to go up against some of the best players in the world."
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNBA will hold a virtual draft without players, guests and media. Ionescu will be watching from home with her immediate family in California.
"Of course I'm disappointed that I'm not able to be in New York and walk across the stage and get that whole experience, but there are more important things going on in the world right now. I'm just happy that I'll be able to be here with my family and they're still making it as special as they can," she said.